Placing an order at a restaurant is something most people take for granted.
Not Cheryl Orgas. She and her husband are both blind, so they either have to ask their server to read the menu to them – or they order something they know will be on the menu.
Braille menus are a rare treat for blind people in the Milwaukee area.
"There's nothing like reading a menu yourself," Orgas said. "It takes so much time for wait staff to read the menu to you, and I feel funny about taking up their time, so I will limit my choices."
As the executive director of Audio and Braille Literacy Enhancement, Inc., Orgas decided to create braille menus for nearly 25 restaurants in her hometown of Shorewood, which is now the first community in Wisconsin to adopt a community-wide braille menu program.
Braille menus can cost between $5 and $15 and take nearly 10 hours to manufacture. To cover the cost, the non-profit organization reached out to Shorewood Men's Club, which contributed a $500 grant for the effort.
Orgas and others from ABLE dropped off the first of the braille menus at Oakcrest Tavern Tuesday afternoon. After fingering her way through the 25-page menu, she thought the Asian chicken salad sounded best. Browsing the menu is a luxury that blind people don't always have.
"It celebrates independence and the opportunity to simply order for myself," Orgas said.
Although a braille menu is a small step for a restaurateur to take, it means the world to Milwaukee's blind population.
"When I know a restaurant is truly welcoming to me, I will go and take famiy members there," said ABLE Board President Cheri McGrath. "It's not just an accessible restroom or a ramp to get in; It's a braille menu that really says, 'Welcome.'"
When Orgas first reached out to Shorewood restaurants, Oakcrest Tavern owner Rick Schmidt was the first and only restaurateur to reply. Before opening Oakcrest six years ago, Schmidt operated 15 Milwaukee-area restaurants, where braille menus were common.
Schmidt said it's been more difficult in recent years to order braille menus, so he was happy ABLE reached out to offer two free menus.
"We want to make it convenient for everybody, and it makes it more convenient for us," Schmidt said. "It's just the right thing to do."
ABLE was able to track down about a dozen other Shorewood menus, which were reproduced as braille and delivered after their lunch at Oakcrest Tuesday afternoon. ABLE expects to have braille menus in all Shorewood restaurants by the end of the summer.
Orgas said she started the braille menu project in her home community, which she hopes will be a model of success for other communities in southeastern Wisconsin. She hopes other philanthropic groups in other communities will provide funds for a braille menu program.
"This Shorewood project will just blossom into other community projects," she said.